Our last major addition occurred in 2011 with a beautiful wood pergola which was constructed over the main entrance to the garden. This long wished-for dream became a reality thanks to Jesse Stone, from Troop 532 in Easton, who built it for us as an Eagle Scout project. At the end of the summer, the area at the far side of the pergola was cleared out of brush and vines, the cedar trees trimmed, and a large, new space was shaped and mulched. Two years later after the passing of two of our society members, we decided to turn the new area into a "Remembrance Bed". First planted with only a chaste tree, rosemary and other perennial plants were added over the years.
The Society herb gardens at Pickering Creek Audubon Center have had a long and interesting history. They began in the early 1990's as eight raised beds bordered in pressure treated wood, tended by the Pickering staff and the occasional volunteers as work schedules and helping hands allowed.
Years later, in 2002, Lou Russell - a Pickering Creek volunteer, founded and became the first president of the newly established Chesapeake Bay Herb Society. She immediate arranged with Pickering's director, to let the society take over the management of the garden. In March of 2003 the society's garden committee, headed by Peggy Hegwood, began their task of cleaning the gardens and replanting, while developing a weeding, trimming, and watering program. The revitalized gardens made a handsome display at the Pickering Creek annual Hoedown in October. However, big plans were in the making for the following year. Our goal was to replace the toxic wood edging so that the grown herbs could be harvested for use. At the same time we decided to create an educational display and presentation as an aesthetic experience for the community.
Starting in January of 2004, the garden committee met several times throughout the winter to devise a game plan for the following season. A rainbow design, created by Betsy Petit de Mange, was chosen, along with building specific theme beds bordered with edging stones. We thank Salisbury Brick Co. once again, for their generous donation of hundreds of brick pavers needed to complete the project.
The Herb Garden Committee works on Mondays, from about 9 AM to 11 AM throughout the summer, but we welcome occasional workers at any time and we can coordinate activities for those who aren’t available during the regular Monday work windows.
With new plans in hand, the "deconstruction" of the old beds started on a blustery and cold day in March. Then, the fun and hard work really began with the marking off of the design, and eventually the laying of the stones to create our new beds. During the process it was discovered that, with only a few minor changes, the original rainbow pattern could be transformed into a lovely maze. The new raised beds were filled with countless wheelbarrows full of compost, contributed by Pickering Creek, along with loads of dried cow manure. Six whiskey barrels to be used as planters, were added along the far edge of the gardens, At last, the new planting began in late May.
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By 2013, after too many years of failing to maintain a lavender bed because of heavy rain and poor drainage, we finally gave up the battle, but not our lavender plants. The remaining plants still alive in September were dug out and planted in pots with layers of stone for drainage. These, plus a few new additions were placed on top of the garden. The following year our potted lavender "bed" was moved to the flagstone area near the fence. There, they joined the bay and jasmine which are both tender shrubs, and kept in pots so they can be wintered indoors. We moved the Tea bed into the lavender's previous location and created a new Bee and Butterfly garden where the Tea beds had been.The Dye and Remedy beds were also established that year. With those changes and additions, the 12 theme beds (Basil, Bee and Butterfly, Lavender, Culinary, Dye, Fragrance, Lemon, Pizza, Remedy, Remembrance, Shade, Tea) remain as such today, though the plants in each bed may change.
Here we are five years later, in 2016, the 14th year that CBHS has tended their demonstration gardens at Pickering Creek Audubon Center. Many, many alterations have been seen throughout the years. Garden committee chairmen have come and gone, as have many of the volunteers, with only two members, Dana McGrath and Gwen Siegmann remaining from the very beginning with Doris Asam joining two years later. Constant though is the dedicated work of the garden volunteers each year from early spring through early November. They face a never-ending struggle with the elements, usually too much damp and cool weather in the early spring followed by months of heat and drought. Often too, we face the violent summer storms that can do so much damage to the garden plants and pathways. Somehow the garden committee always offers to the public a lovely little oasis filled with fragrant, blooming herbs and other plants, along with Mother Nature's creations that visit the gardens. An abundance of various moths, butterflies, dragonflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators can be seen almost any time. Toads and skinks often show their little faces, and let us not forget the furry critters that, too often, feast on the cherished plants.
The final major task of that first year was to clean up the entrance area under the cedar and yew trees. Endless hours were spent pulling out wild growth. The cleared area was covered with thick layers of newspaper which were then saturated with water before being covered with mulch, also donated by Pickering. We added a metal bench and two matching chairs, donated by Peggy Hegwood, which created a quiet, shaded, sitting area for the volunteers and visitors.
After months of hard work by many hands, with the help of our husbands and sons, the gardens were ready for their grand opening on July 25, 2004. Fliers and invitations were sent out, tents erected, herbal refreshments prepared, and finally CBHS was ready to present their newly designed herb gardens to the community. The ribbon cutting was performed by our president, Lou Russell, and Easton's Mayor Robert Willey. We were so pleased to see how many of our community members attended the affair. A proud moment indeed, for all those involved in the transformation of the gardens.
Our foundation was formed that first year, but many changes have occurred throughout the 12 years since. In 2005, two new members brought a gourd teepee from a therapeutic horse farm where they volunteered. This was huge structure of bamboo supports woven with thistle vines. During the Pickering Creek Annual Hoedown the teepee was covered with gourd vines, providing an interesting place for children to play and help harvest the giant gourds, which could be dried and made into bird houses. Sadly, that was only a one year event.
2005 also saw the addition of our "market garden.” Seven beds behind the big garden shed were planted with culinary herbs, which were harvested weekly and used by Out of the Fire restaurant in Easton. This new project was led by Denis Gasper. As with the gourd teepee, this was only a single year venture. We could not muster enough man power to keep both sets of gardens going.
In 2006 the Society purchased a beautiful three tiered solar fountain that proved to be more trouble than it was worth. After a year of attempting to make it, Paul Thut transformed it from solar to electric power, but even that proved to be too cranky to deal with. After a few years of it sitting unused in the big shed, it was dragged out once again to become just a birdbath.
Our final project of the year, was the addition of hand painted theme bed signs that are still present in the gardens today. Although we have made changes in the theme beds over the years, some additions, and some losses, the signs have been refurbished often, and the original metal stakes were replaced with painted wooden ones. Lastly, in September of that year, the previously mulched pathways were redone with pea gravel.
Chesapeake Bay Herb Society